North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard is approaching the end of his first six months in office. He recently spoke with WAMC about what he’s accomplished and what challenges face the smallest city in Massachusetts.
After an April 13th article on North Adams real estate in the New York Times, WAMC asked Bernard about the possibility of increased economic development raising the cost of living in the city, one of the poorest in Massachusetts.
“That’s a real concern, and it’s something that I have given a lot of thought to," Bernard told WAMC, "because as exciting as that New York Times article is, you do have to think about the whole picture, and people who are struggling, and we do have people at the socioeconomic margins who are already challenged, and as valuations rise and as rents increase, we’re going to have to really look at that carefully. We’re going to have to lean on the support of agencies that already exist to provide support. But we’re going to have to calibrate all of this carefully and there’s — some of this is city work, some of this is a natural consequence of economic development and we’re just going to have to watch it as it plays and intervene where we need to.”
Bernard says the city is well prepared for the arrival of legalized recreational marijuana on July 1st.
“What I can say is that we did a very good process with our ordinance development, and we’re well positioned," said Bernard. "We have seen some interest and inquiries from businesses interested in a couple of different things. Some retail, some cultivation. Nobody’s come forth with their official proposals yet, but I know that there are some in the works. There is at least one organization that’s done their community meeting. A couple others that have made steps in that direction and haven’t held the meeting for different reasons, but there are people looking for places to site. Some have space under control, some are still looking for it. But we’re going to see that interest increase, and hopefully we’re going to be in the forefront of that wave of development.”
As he plots out the city’s budget for 2019, Bernard has to factor in some serious limitations.
“We have a good budget for next year," he said. "It’s probably the most challenging one in a few years, and fortunately the previous administration and the finance team set the stage for that knowing that this year is going to be a particular challenge, but next year we’ll have a little more flexibility as a little debt that we are carrying comes off the books, and that gives us the opportunity to look at investment. This year is really a maintenance budget, we’re not looking at investment, so anything that I might be thinking about from a strategic standpoint around economic development I’m going to have to be really creative about, because I’m not going to do it within budget funds this year.”
Bernard says the city’s budget will include an almost 2 percent increase over last year, coming in at just under $41 million. Having gone through three Finance Committee hearings, the final budget will face the city council on June 12th, with final approval possible on June 26th.